Over the years Kenny Burrell has largely remained true to his roots. Ranked among the most revered jazz artists of his generation he’s waxed a wealth of sessions both as leader and sideman that approaches the countless. The two dates combined on this two-fer visit him in the lean years of the Seventies and suggest that even a bop disciple of Burrell’s relative purity was susceptible to encroaching trends and influences.
Stormy Monday, the first in the pair of records reissued herein, hearkens back to Burrell’s Blue Note days with only Heard’s amplified bass tipping off its later vintage. The crisp cerulean single note lines remain intact and Burrell’s emotive blues-based figures make routine forays around the melodic signposts of the standards on hand. Wyand’s sensitive comping and the light traps reinforcement of McBrowne (and Goldberg on a pair of cuts) completes the portrait of jazz men in their element spinning off riffs like smoke rings from a leisurely lit cigarette. There’s not much room for chance-taking in the arrangements, but the players seem at ease with cultivating a mood than testing the boundaries of their adopted repertoire. Burrell recognizes the date as an ensemble affair and as such his sidemen garner substantial solo space as well. Heard’s corpulent walking improvisation on “Azure Te” is but one instance where the leader’s faith is repaid. Burrell’s Ellington appreciation, which was to become even more pronounced in later recordings, is accorded space in the choice of a lengthy take on “I Got It Bad” as a closer.
As the companion date Sky Street is quite different both in terms of content and attitude. Trafficking in torpid grooves via Gilbert’s punchy bass lines and Marshall’s gentle syncopations the session is very much embroiled in fusion-tinged impulses. Burrell’s usually clean chords are dressed up in often largely submerged in Lightsey’s electric piano. Richardson, who was easily capable of injecting fervent emotion into his improvisations sounds in other settings sounds much of the time like he’s treating things as a by the numbers studio date. Despite these demerits on the jazz score card, the quintet still manages to rack up moments of musical intrigue as on the closing minutes of “Three Thousand Miles Back Home” where Richardson’s plaintive flute weaves with Burrell’s melancholy counterpoint. Lightsey’s opening on the Latin-flavored “Habiba” is likewise effective, but the piece eventually devolves into showy noodling on the part of the leader and overheated soprano excess on the part of Richardson. “Kim-Den Strut” attempts a balance between sections of contemplative reverie and fatback funk, but ultimately ends up crumpling under the collision of disparate elements. The two sessions together offer up Burrell both in his element and in the less flattering environs of more commercial fusion, but overall the music is strong enough to support recommendation.
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Track Listing: Stormy Monday Blues/ Azure Te (Paris Blues)/ One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)/ (I
Personnel: Kenny Burrell- guitar; Richard Wyands- piano; John Heard- bass; Lenny McBrowne- drums; Richie Goldberg- drums; Jerome Richardson- tenor & soprano saxophones, flute*; Kirk Lightsey- acoustic & electric piano*; Stanley Gilbert- acoustic & electric bass*; Eddie Marshall- drums*. Recorded: June 18-20, 1974 & January 29-30, 1975.
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